Ahlbeck - Świnoujście, on the German-Polish border, the beginning of the line seperates old and new EU members. Photo : www.atelier-limo.eu

Filming the forgotten frontier

Café Babel interviews Berlin-based French students Simon Brunel and Nicolas Pannetier, directors of The Inner Border, a documentary that travels along the former Iron Curtain in search of those whose lives were shaped by the now defunct and once forbidding boundary line.

Published on 4 September 2009 at 13:47
Ahlbeck - Świnoujście, on the German-Polish border, the beginning of the line seperates old and new EU members. Photo : www.atelier-limo.eu

With the screening of The Inner Border right along the former Iron Curtain this summer, your film is going back to where it started. Where did you get the idea for this project?

We were in Graz, in Austria, when the former eastern bloc countries entered the EU, and we wanted to understand how exactly that happened. That’s why we did a presentation for our architecture degree on this border. We were on the road for three months, from the Baltic Sea and the German-Polish border down to the Adriatic between Slovenia and Italy. Our first aim was to gather sounds, images, impressions, always following the same methodology at each of the 238 spots we visited along that border. At one point we crossed the border four or five times in one day.

How did an architecture study project turn into a film?

Our project, although a bit unusual, was very well received. We went on to meet Barbara Keifenheim, the German filmmaker and anthropologist, who inspired us to make the film. So, we decided to base our idea on the principle "one stretch of border, one place, one person." We selected seven of the people we'd met on the first trip and we went back to see them. Things sped up a bit in November 2007 when we learned that the border posts were going to be destroyed a month later. We wanted to be there when that happened.

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Although the film is made up of seven portraits, the border itself remains the main character. What's so fascinating about it?

The border is both visible and invisible. You can’t give it a personal definition and it strikes us as a place of paradoxes, of separations and encounters. It is a fantasy land where different points on the spectrum become intertwined. It is a dividing line: two towns, two countries, and in the case of the Iron Curtain, two ideological camps. In order to preserve the authenticity of the sources, we didn’t want to use interpreters - except in one instance where the daughter of the Hungarian museum attendant translates what they are saying, but they are great scenes anyway. Of course, this meant that we had to concentrate on those people we could communicate with, but it also created some unusual scenes, such as the Polish shopkeeper largely expressing himself with gestures.

You’re off now to screen the film at 40 places along this border. What are you expecting?

The film has an intrinsic duty to return to the places where it was shot. To do this we are going to do the itinerary of the first trip in reverse, starting in Koper in Slovenia in July and arriving in Poland in October. The objective, even at our low rung on the ladder, is to make people think. Even though the borders are open now, Europe still isn’t perfect. There are things which remain hidden and topics which still need to be addressed. In some ways this film is provocative, it really puts the cat among the pigeons, so we are expecting diverse reactions and we know that we are sometimes placing ourselves in danger. What we want is to initiate dialogue, and we hope that this film will contribute to that.

Sebastien Vannier (Translation : Andrew Christie)

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